“How did that get in here?”
The karaoke pariah of anyone’s record collection, the 45rpm equivalent to a lunchtime BBC radio band show, (sit back and enjoy Speedy Gonzales by our resident orchestra and vocalists). A friend recalls that his pocket money went on Embassy singles from age 12 to 14, and then he started to hear the difference. An Embassy sleeve conjures up Winton Woolworths in Bournemouth for me, with its splintery old wooden floorboards. Sweets first on he left, then the record counter. I went through the normal process. Toy soldiers gave way to Airfix model kits, which in turn gave way to Embassy cover versions. Embassy lasted a very short time with me though. Two were enough.
The Wonder of Woolies
Embassy started out in November 1954 as a revived idea by Woolworth’s to offer value gramophone records to those whose means were limited, or who were too tight to fork out for the genuine article. In 1954, Woolworths were the biggest record retailer in the UK, and they had history with budget records.
In America, Vocalion had supplied Woolworths with covers under the Little Marvel logo from 1920 onward, on five inch discs at 80 rpm. Eclipse were a Woolworth’s British speciality from 1927. They produced eight-inch 78 rpm singles in vast quantities at 6d (sixpence, or 2.5p) each, compared to 1/3d (one shilling and threepence or 6p) each for “proper records.” They were technically advanced, being the first electronically-recorded records. They point the way to Embassy. Take Sally from 1931. It was the most popular record of the year in Gracie Field’s version from the film Sally In Our Alley. The Eclipse version at 6d is by one ‘Pat O’Dell’ which was a pseudonym for Cavan O’Connor. Ironically, a year or two later, O’Connor was Britain’s second-highest paid radio singer. First was Gracie Fields.
Woolies also had the Victory / The Victory label on 7” 78 rpm discs, and the Woolco label.
In 1935, the Crown label was added., though that advertised All The Hits By Famous Artistes. They were mainly covers of very famous artistes by less famous artistes. They cost 6d.
Woolworths weren’t alone. Currys electrical stores had a record label, as did Gamages department store in London, and as did Empire Stores.
Eclipse record production died in 1940 with material shortages due to the war, and it took until 1954 for Woolworths to re-enter the market with Embassy.
All the labels were invited to tender for the new Woolworths label. The independent Planet Recordings was expected to secure it. Instead, the contract to produce and manufacture the records went to Morris Levy’s Oriole label, because Oriole were located at 73 New Bond Street, right by Woolworths’ head office, and Levy agreed to meet the Woolworths buyer mid-week, choose what to cover, record it (in New Bond Street) on Thursday, and have the records in the shops by the next Monday. New Bond Street sounds good, but the studios were upstairs above the Bunch of Grapes pub in Deering Street, and a fashion shop on New Bond Street. They had a dubbing studio at 101 New Bond Street. It was a converted ballroom dance studio. Levy chose the name Embassy. Rival bidders Planet Recordings went out of business so comprehensively they have left virtually no internet trace. I’ve only ever seen one disc, Hi-Ya, Mr Jackson by Tony Hall’s “Hallstars.” (and yes, it’s on iTunes). It was a British modern jazz label, so a surprise contender.
In 1954, Oriole distributed the American major Mercury. Until 1964, Oriole were the fifth biggest label, quite a way behind the Big Four, but larger than the other independents. New Musical Express reported the Woolworths deal in October 1954. It stated:
This is not a scheme that will reach fruition in the distant future; the first issues of the new label will be released during November, for extraordinary secrecy has been maintained throughout the long and careful negotiations of this great business venture … Behind this important new project is the organising genius of long-established recording expert, Morris Levy, of Oriole and Mercury fame. He is responsible not only for the recording sessions (many of which have already taken place) but for the manufacture of the actual discs.
Shrewdly, Morris Levy gave Woolworths the exclusive rights to the recordings for Britain, but retained ownership of the masters to license abroad.
In the Netherlands, Vroom & Dreesman, or V&D as the Dutch label it, or VD as British visitors call it, was a national chain of department stores with its own budget record label, so a natural Woolworths-like outlet:
In France, Lido reissued them.
In Australia, Galaxy and Festival.
In Spain, Vergara.
In Germany, Ariola.
In Belgium, some Embassy covers charted in place of the originals.
In the USA Jukebox, Mercury and Bell licensed some for their budget EP ranges.
In Israel, where they were admitted to the chart, Johnny Worth’s version of Tom Dooley outsold both the Kingston Trio and Lonnie Donegan versions.
Embassy sold cheap copies of other people’s hits, and originally did so on 10” 78 rpm discs. The slogan was to make cheap records that don’t sound cheap. At that time, with purchase tax, 78s cost nine shillings (45p). Woolworths sought tenders to produce the same at four shillings and sixpence (22.5p) or exactly half price.
When vinyl came along, 45s were usually around 6s 8d. (32.5p). Embassy could do them at four shillings (20p).
Embassy … early 78s … click to enlarge
Most of the singers that Embassy used featured on the BBC Light Programme live broadcasts. Due to Musician’s Union rules, needle time was severely restricted before 1967, so hits were performed live on radio by a resident band and singers. i.e. The BBC were in the same business as Embassy; presenting cover versions.
The imaginary vocal group The Canadians cut seven Embassy 78s, including See You Later Alligator and Blue Suede Shoes. The Canadians were also known as The Maple Leaf Four and had their own Radio Luxembourg programme. They consisted of brothers Norman and John MacCleod, Al Harvey and Joe Melia. The Maple Leaf Four got one of their own compositions on Embassy, The Clock On The Wall in 1959 on a disc with Old Shep. It had appeared on a BBC production, Smoky Mountain Jamboree.
It is rumoured that future rock manager Don Arden sang on The Canadians’ version of Blue Suede Shoes, (being an impressionist at the time, and channeling Elvis Presley) but it is not mentioned in his autobiography.
Embassy 78s … second 78 rpm design … click to enlarge
If you look at the two galleries above, you’ll see that WB296 is in an older sleeve than WB 236. In common with many labels, Embassy didn’t switch designs smoothly. They used up stock, and it may have differed between the two pressing plants.
Embassy 45s … first design … click to enlarge
Embassy started pressing 45s in 1958.
Jack Baverstock had previously been with New Musical Express and had helped set up the Top Twenty charts in Britain. An online biography of Johnny Gregory says:
Jack Baverstock, Artist and Repertoire Manager of Oriole and Embassy records, was looking for an MD. Jack was a smooth operator with thinning, neatly cut, well Brylcreemed hair, suits that looked if they were poured onto his body and a long cigarette holder. Jack called Johnny Gregory to meet him at Oriole in 1954. A new label was being launched, Embassy Records, an economy 78rpm product for sale exclusively in Woolworth’s. Johnny, and another musical director, Ken Jones, were to provide the arrangements and Baverstock would direct the sessions. It was the beginning of the “Chinese Copy” era. As soon as any popular record looked like it was going into the charts, Johnny or Ken would adapt the arrangements from the disc and a singing artist was chosen who could mimic the original artist. They were cranking out eight records or sixteen numbers a week and all had to be finished during the session, no remixing in those days. They were then pressed and in Woolworth stores within five to six days. Many turned out to be better than the originals, and with a nationwide network of Woolworth stores to distribute them, they sold in their tens of thousands.
Johnny Gregory was also working with EMI and Decca at that time and was known around the studios. Many would ask why he was going to Embassy. The answer, it was great experience doing three or more sessions a week, and he met all the great musicians. Jack Peach the drummer was one of the chief fixers and Ken Jones originally played piano on Johnny’s sessions.
Baverstock moved to set up the new Fontana label for Philips in 1958, and was replaced by Reg Wharburton. Johnny Gregory went with him, but agreed to continue working for Oriole / Embassy and did so until 1959. Gregory says he reproduced a vast Mantovani string section with just three violinists for Embassy.
Oriole supplied the recordings to Woolworth’s for ten years from 1954 to 1965. The singles went from WB101 in November 1954, Three Coins in A Fountain by Larry Cross, to WB678, Keep Searchin’ by Paul Rich & The Beatmen in January 1965.
All the single releases were Double-A sides. Very often the sides of an Embassy single were credited to different artists and were quite different types of music. It’s hard to see why someone would want a cover of Russ Conway’s tinkling parlour piano for Side Saddle on one side, and a cover of Leiber & Stoller’s R&B novelty classic by The Coasters, Charlie Brown on the other. But that was WB-45-331 in 1959.
As a result, dealers often file second-hand Embassy the old-fashioned way, by catalogue number rather than alphabetical order. Between 1955 and 1966 they released 1300 tracks, covering virtually every Top Ten entry. They also released genre EPs (musicals, travel, film soundtracks) and albums. In October 1961, a batch of ten spoken voice discs as Embassy Kidditales were issued.
The Fifties EPs
They did a roaring trade in EPs, and in the 1950s, the EPs were definitely aimed at post-teen buyers, and had not the immediacy of 45s “the current hit.” The WEP series was launched in May 1958. They were launched in batches at longer intervals.
The EPs could soldier on for years and did. We’re including a large gallery of 50s EPs because they’re a snapshot of Embassy’s “adult” target market, as well as the tastes of the era. Nearly all the sleeves were illustrated (not having the original artists or productions to photograph). In June 1959 when they issued a series of “two musical” EPs, they sneaked a photo from The King and I on the sleeve, having worked out that you could license it separately. However, that didn’t work for South Pacific / Carousel where they were stuck with a generic Pacific picture and a very English girl on a Merry-Go-Round.
The EPs, unlike EPs from the majors, contained a soft plastic inner bag, were marked “Factory inspected and sealed” and announced that they were “Full Range Embassy High Fidelity.” Early ones have deep pink labels. The Holiday In … series covered the predictable 1960 destinations.
Gallery … early EPs … click to enlarge
Embassy at the Musicals … click to enlarge
Embassy On Holiday … click to enlarge
Charts and sales
Embassy’s biggest ever sales were from Bobby Stevens (aka Ray Pilgrim)’s cover of Frank Ifield’s hit I Remember You. The Frank Ifield original was one of the major hits of the era. The Bobby Stevens’ B-side, or rather ‘other A-side’ was Elvis Presley’s EP track Follow That Dream. Embassy continued to commission repeat pressings of a cover version for three months, often selling out a pressing in one day. I Remember You was half a year before The Beatles and it’s a significant peak, because it was definitely a Mums & Dads disc, not a teen one. It indicates who was experiencing The Wonder of Woolies. Another major seller was Bud Ashton’s version of Telstar, boosted when Decca couldn’t press the Tornados original fast enough, and stores ran out.
Embassy was banned from the charts, and the Woolworths Museum website claims the ban started when Maureen Evans’ 1958 cover of both sides of Connie Francis’s Stupid Cupid / Carolina Moon outsold the original MGM version. As Connie Francis was number one, this seems unlikely. Certainly retrospective charts show no mention of Embassy, though it is claimed that had Embassy not been banned, they would have had several records in the Top Thirty throughout their era and earned several silver discs. Maureen Evans was so popular on Embassy that they switched her to the main Oriole label.
The last Embassy sessions were in 1965. The novelty of tempting mums and dads to waste their money on cut-price fabrications of the Top Twenty had not faded into the sunset, and the torch (or sputtering candle) had already been taken up by Canon, Top Six, Six Hit, Crossbow, Avenue and a dozen other covers labels, before the concept got shifted onto Top of The Pops and Hot Hits LPs in the 70s.
Oriole’s buyer, in late 1964, was American giant CBS, who wanted Oriole’s two pressing plants, at Ashton Clinton and Colnbrook, busy as they were producing Embassy weekly. CBS didn’t even want Oriole’s roster. Cheapie covers were not CBS’s sort of thing, and the Woolworths contract had run its ten-year course in any case. The pressing plants were used by all the majors when they needed extra capacity, as well as by Oriole and Embassy, and Embassy alone were estimated to have 5% of the UK market. CBS also inherited Oriole’s New Bond Street studio, and one of the first things CBS cut there was The Paul Simon Songbook by the young folk singer, then resident in London. The session sheets are on Oriole printed sheets with Oriole crossed out.
Pressing records appears to have been the central business of the Levy companies, as Oriole would often put commissions from other labels before its own output. Embassy took the highest priority, with its guaranteed sales. The average Embassy first pressing run was said to be 20,000, or a reasonable hit record in those days. In the industry as a whole, one hit in twenty releases, or 5%, was considered a viable success rate. With two “hit songs” most Embassy releases were hits in their own terms. Embassy’s problem was that they had to get their version out hard on the heels of the major label release, so to a degree they had to predict the hit potential of a record early on, before or immediately on release. That was easy with major artists, but then to attract buyers it had to be a double-sided cover of hits. In the late 50s there were a few turkeys, songs they predicted to be hits that nosedived, some were wrong choices on both sides too, no doubt leaving them with piles of unsold pressed singles. Anyone for Sal’s Got A Sugar Lip by Johnny Worth? The original was by Johnny Horton who had a good track record in the USA, and it got to #81 pop and #19 country there. Lonnie Donegan had covered it on album. And no, I’d never heard of it either.
Major labels wouldn’t have pressed 20,000 on the first run unless it were a major artist. Even so, Embassy’s flop rate was nothing like the 95% fail rate of major labels, and Embassy got better at predicting as they moved into the sixties.
Prioritising Embassy pressing schedules is a major reason why Oriole remained a minor label. Darrell Higham in the sleeve notes to The Embassy Story Vol. 1 CDsays:
The mad scenario of having Embassy cover an Oriole release, only for the latter to fail in order to fulfil contractual obligations to press the amount of records wanted by the former actually DID happen. You couldn’t make this up, but apparently We Will Make Love by Russ Hamilton had a goodly amount of advance orders. In was expected to be a number one hit. However, using pretty much the same musicians and arrangement (but a different singer of course), Embassy rush-released a cover, and stretched Oriole’s pressing plant to beyond its capabilities. Morris Levy honoured his commitment to Woolworths, and Russ Hamilton didn’t get a number one hit.
Russ Hamilton can’t complain too much. It did get to number two, in May 1957. Gerry Grant did the Embassy cover.
In 1962, one of Oriole’s biggest hits was Like I Do by Maureen Evans, and sure enough, Embassy covered it with Kay Barry (i.e. Barbara Kay). Given the recording equipment, they almost certainly didn’t drop in a new vocal on an existing track, and the guitar is completely different. However, they would have used the same musicians and sheet music and simply run through it again. Given the Top Twenty to choose from, it seems strange to cover their own hit song.
Originals … click to enlage
The covers … two on one disc … click to enlarge
Another example of the Oriole / Embassy relationship comes with Will You Love Me Tomorrow in early 1961. Covering American hits was a British tradition for the major labels too, and the Oriole aim was the time-honoured “stealing the hit” at full price, rather than the Embassy style of a budget two-sided single of overt covers. British producers sought out rising American hits by less well-known artists and raced to cover them with a British “name” like Frankie Vaughan or Craig Douglas. The songwriters and music publishers were fine with multiple covers: three competing versions on the radio made a hit more likely. The Shirelles were already established artists with three American Top 100 hits, and Will You Love Me Tomorrow was a new Goffin-King song. It’s said The Shirelles disliked it, thinking it both “too country” and “too controversial” with its pre-marital sex storyline. It became the first US number one by a girl group in 1960. The UK release entered the chart in February 1961, on the Top Rank label.
Oriole decided to cover the song with The Raindrops, a group consisting of Irish singer Jackie Lee (later “Jacky” of White Horses fame) with Len Beadle (Jackie’s husband), Vince Hill and Johnny Worth on backing vocals. Incidentally, every image online has the disc in the wrong sleeve (see Oriole).
The Oriole version is feeble in comparison, though Jackie Lee sings well and they drench it in strings like the original. But having cut an attempt at “stealing” The Shirelles hit, they covered their bases by immediately doing an Embassy version, with Jean Campbell in March 1961.
With Embassy, you get a cover of Connie Francis’s Where The Boys Are on the other side. The Oriole disc has ‘Accompaniment directed by Gordon Franks’ while the Embassy disc has ‘Accompaniment directed by Steve Stannard.’ The arrangements sound similar, but the bass is further forward on the Embassy recording. The Oriole one is 16 seconds longer and Jackie Lee has a deeper, richer and more characterful and powerful voice than Jean Campbell. The backing voices might be the same people, but on the Embassy one they have a louder Sha-la, Sha-la. Were they undermining themselves?
Then there’s The Big Hurt / I Can’t Begin To Tell You. The same pair of tracks on Oriole (Maureen Evans) and on Embassy ()Jean Cambell), both accompanied by Norman Percival & His Orchestra. I Can’t Begin To Tell You is an odd choice because it was merely a Jane Morgan B-side thus departing from Embassy’s “Two hits on one disc” policy. . Both sides have the same backing track with different vocalists, so they went for economy in having the same track on the other side.
Mystery adds allure to Embassy. Who were these people? All the musicians and singers on these records were highly competent professionals. Embassy called them ‘ghost singers.’ Many of them performed for a variety of labels including the major record labels as well as other cut-price or give-away specials. They didn’t have hours to rehearse a song; they came straight in and did it with whoever else was available at that time. And a name appeared on the record, unlike other budget labels. However, it wasn’t always the name the singer was born with, nor the one they made a living with. Although the names of artists were printed on Embassy singles, some performed incognito, though others owned up to their real identities. The EP release All Star Traditional Jazz from 159 (WEP 133) lists real artists front and back, and George Chisholm in particular was famous under his own name.
All Star Traditional Jazz … click to enlarge
A session player from the time accuses some of covering their own records, and Tommy Steele has been mentioned as one of those who did, with the joke being that the Embassy covers were criticized as being unlike the originals.
Some artists and most of the session players were not adverse to recording for Decca, Pye, Philips or EMI’s Columbia one week, and then popping round to Embassy on Thursdays for the three hour session which nailed that week’s releases. Each session produced four songs, and the three hours included setting up time and a mandatory Musician’s Union coffee break. The cover singers were given the original record and lyrics on the Wednesday and were expected to learn the song overnight. The Thursday session allowed the records to be pressed, dispatched and on sale in Woolworths on the following Monday morning. Thirty minutes was the common time taken per track, although they did have the problem of changing the arrangement enough to avoid infringing the original arranger’s copyright. They were recorded at Oriole / Embassy’s studio in New Bond Street. Reg Warburton was A&R man for both labels, Oriole and Embassy, from 1957 to 1965.
Often Embassy and Oriole would deliberately book the same backing musicians for the session to save time. Chas McDevitt and Nancy Whisky recorded Freight Train as an Oriole single, then became The Cranes for the subsidiary label Embassy’s cover version. The Oriole one is worth more, which seems unjust as the Embassy one has a better B-side (a cover of Lonnie Donegan’s version of Cumberland Gap). Skiffle Session is a 1958 EP is intriguingly credited to The Coffee Bar Skifflers, but you wonder who they actually were.
The classical releases on EP fit in the normal numbering sequence with the same label designs … this was unusual. Lionel Hale & The Embassy Light Symphony Orchestra were unlikely to be performing at your local concert hall. Ever. Nor were “Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Serge Lamont.” It’s speculated that Serge Lamont was Sir Malcolm Sargent. However, according to Discogs it was the conductor Michael Freedman, with a humorous pointer suggesting it was Malcom Sargent.
10″ Classical LPs
WLP 610: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony: Michael Freedman & The London Metropolis Orchestra, Embassy 10″ LP 1960
As well as EPs, in 1959 to 1960, Embassy persisted with 10″ Classical LPs: The one above of Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 is credited to Michael Freedman with The London Metropolis Orchestra.
So did they need two recordings of Beethoven’s 5th? Because the earlier 1959 one below (WLP 5000) is credited to Serge Lamont,
And so on …
When they produced The Waggle of The Kilt the culprits were The First Battalion Liverpool Scottish, a Territorial Army Band, which while associated with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, were Liverpool Jocks. And doesn’t a kilt swirl, rather than ‘waggle’?
Brian Matthews pointed out that “Matt Bryant” was an interesting Embassy artist, (i.e. himself) and he recorded a cover of Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren’s Goodness Gracious Me! with ‘Linda Joyce’. Linda Joyce was Oriole artist Maureen Evans, who also did many Embassy covers both as Linda Joyce (her real name) and as Maureen Evans. ‘Shorty Mitchell’ was Mike Sammes. Both The Tunettes and The Tonettes were the Mike Sammes Singers. Bert Weedon denies recording for Embassy as ‘Bud Ashton’, but Brian Matthew assured listeners to Sounds of The Sixties that Weedon did play on Embassy singles. He was there. The engineer at Levy Studios, Bill Johnson, said that Bert Weedon was certainly one of the Bud Ashtons, but not the only one. Bud Ashton was a name used on any guitar instrumental track. Some were played by Bert. Some weren’t. Big Jim Sullivan one of the several other Buds. Nut Rocker, with piano leading is attributed to Bud Ashton and surely even Bert Weedon can’t have learned to “play it in a day”.
Stuart Ralls: The Steve Stannard, Gerry Stevens, Bobby Cameron, Gerry Glenn and Happy Knights names which were used as backing orchestra names were all under m/d Gordon Franks. Odd fictitious names were used to make the whole operation look much bigger than it was. I assume the first Trad jazz record Summer Set by the Black Knights Jazz Band was possibly challenged by another band using that name, as it was never used again, becoming Happy Knights. Another mystery artist is Sally Hyde who appeared in the dying days of the label. Her voice has similarities to Oriole artist of the time Christine Quaite.
There are other famous suspects. Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson were definitely involved. Pearl Carr used her own name for I’ll Never Stop Loving You on Embassy, and recorded Where Will The Dimple Be as Pearl Carr & The Embassy Rhythm Group in 1955. Her husband, Teddy Johnson, was Wally Carr on Embassy for A Blossom Fell, also in 1955. Clinton Ford, also an Oriole artist, was reputed to do the country covers as Del Martin and Hank Rogers. Then was Russ Vincent (Jealousy / Hats Off To Larry) actually Russ Hamilton? Craig Douglas, Matt Monro, Dennis Lotis and Marion have also been “accused.” Vince Hill is a suspect, because all the other three members of The Raindrops recorded for Embassy and it seems unlikely that he stood aside. The Pearls on Embassy were some of The Vernons Girls.
The great majority of releases were from Embassy’s house artists though. Ray Pilgrim, also known as Bobby Stevens (as well as the Typhoons, The Jaybirds, The Starlings and The Beatmen), was one of Embassy’s most reliable journeymen and had previously had a few releases under his own name on Oriole: Baby Doll (1960), Little Miss Makebelieve (1961) and Red Red Roses (1962); more indication of the close Oriole/Embassy link.
The prodigious Ray Pilgrim quit showbusiness altogether in 1965 for a proper career in computing. He was a regular BBC radio singer. Pilgrim recorded 150 sides for Embassy under various names and managed to cover Chris Montez’s Let’s Dance and Frank Ifield’s Lovesick Blues as two sides of one single. In his Bobby Stevens guise, he recorded covers of both The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Wimoweh within a month. They’re basically the same song, and while he made a decent stab at The Tokens hit, he had a heavy cold when he recorded the Karl Denver song, and says that it’s his worst ever record.
Because Embassy cover versions were licensed to so many other cover labels abroad, Ray Pilgrim estimated he’d sold five million singles, unfortunately all for session fees. He says forty labels in twenty-five countries licensed and reissued Embassy tracks.
1 Blue Velvet / If I Had A Hammer: Don Duke, licensed to Discofoon, Dutch Vroom & Dreesman stores
2 She Loves You / I Want To Hold Your Hand: The Typhoons, licensed to Teeny Records, Belgium
Ray Pilgrim sums up the appeal of Embassy for himself:
As 1959 took off with the national exposure on Go Man Go and Saturday Club, I got approached to sign record deals with a couple of the major labels. But they involved “management” strings which I didn’t want and would have involved touring around singing the same five or six songs every night for months on end. Which would have been nowhere near as enjoyable as being with the Oscar Rabin Orchestra. And besides which, was totally incompatible with my London-based University plans. The opportunity with Oriole fitted much better. And the real jewel in the Oriole crown was Embassy! So started a great relationship which meant I could record new songs every month for over five years.
Paul Rich was an established vocalist with big dance bands from 1942 onwards, and he also played guitar. He used to work as a singer / guitarist on his own in the West End nightclubs after the Palais de Dances closed for the night. His recording of Cruising Down The River in 1946 pre-dates the charts, but the sheet music sales made it the second-biggest British sheet music seller up to 1946. In the 1950s he owned a chain of London sweet shops, as well as playing solo and working with The Fortune Airs. He recorded sixty-three songs for Embassy from 1957, up to the very last single in early 1965. He sounds far more convincing on Mona Lisa than on Chantilly Lace or Whole Lotta Woman, but he was in his late thirties early on in his Embassy days, to his mid-forties by his last recording. Whole Lotta Woman sounded feeble even by Woolworths standards. His post-Embassy career was in music publishing as Vice-President of Carlin, and he was one of the most influential music publishers of the 1970s.
Gerry Grant did seven singles from 1957 to 1959, as well as recording on Parlophone as Dean Webb, covering The Drifters’ Warm Your Heart, not coincidentally arranged by Ken Jones. His real name was Michael Eaton, and he appeared on Oh, Boy!. He was the vocalist with the Felix King Orchestra at London’s Colony Restaurant.
Johnny Worth started doing work for Embassy in 1958, recording covers of Splish Splash, King Creole, I Got Stung, It’s Only Make Believe, Tom Dooley, Mean Streak , Living Doll, Sea of Love, Oh, Carol and Western Movies among others. Like many Embassy artists, he sang with the Oscar Rabin Band, then joined vocal group The Raindrops. They appeared on Drumbeat where he met Adam Faith and John Barry and pitched his song What Do You Want? He used Les Van Dyke as his songwriting name.
Adam Faith had a hit with it, so Johnny Worth did the Embassy cover of Adam Faith’s hit song, What Do You Want? for Embassy. But is it a cover, or is it the original? The Adam Faith version went to #1, but Johnny Worth had written the song in the first place. He has the tremolo in his voice, but sings “baby” not “bigh-bee” like Adam. Then again, what makes the song is John Barry’s arrangement for Adam Faith for EMI’s Parlophone, which the Embassy version follows.
Worth continued recording for Embassy and Oriole, and also covered Poor Me, Someone Else’s Baby and How About That, all of which he’d written for Adam Faith and which he promptly covered for Embassy. He is Embassy’s biggest success story, going on to write I’m Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse for Jimmy Helms. He is collectable in his own right, and there is a Johnny Worth Embassy CD compilation with all thirty-eight of his Embassy tracks. He says:
I got paid a tenner a track which was quite a bit of dosh in the late fifties / early sixties.
As each session produced two tracks, that’s £20. In 1960, the average manual worker earned £14.10 a week. £20 was a decent white-collar weekly wage, a private three-bedroom house and car wage.
As a nod to their Oriole parent company, two of the cover bands were called The Starlings and The Jaybirds. The other beat group, The Typhoons, were to be called The Eagles until the Bristol group had a hit on Pye. So instead they were given a “sounds like Tornados” name. An oft-repeated rumour places a very young Alvin Lee, later of Ten Years After, in The Starlings. I don’t believe it.
Nino Rico was invented by Johnny Gregory to cover Latin-American and Italian popular material. Nino (i.e. Johnny Gregory) proved so successful, they shifted his virtual self to Oriole and released a 10” LP.
Joan Baxter shows how much Embassy singers were an in-crowd. She had replaced Jackie Lee in Ronnie Aldrich’s Squadronaires, a major BBC Light Programme broadcast group. Like many of the others, she had had a release on Parlophone before recording for Embassy.
Neville Taylor, one of Britain’s very few black rock singers at the time, ghosted on Embassy under several names, including Hal Burton and Hal Munro. Taylor had recorded under his own name for Parlophone with Mercy, Mercy Percy, and released records on both Oriole (Dance With Dolly) and Embassy (It Ain’t Necessarily So) as Neville Taylor. He was a regular on Oh, Boy! As Neville Taylor & The Cutters, doing Little Richard songs with a sax and horn band.
Don Duke was a successful Embassy ghost artist. They changed his name to Dick Jordan for his covers of The Everly Brothers Let It Be Me and Cathy’s Clown. These were well received, so he was switched to Oriole in 1960, though still doing covers. Hallelujah, I Love Her So was UK #47, then he did Garden of Eden, but these were not current covers. His Little Christine reached a modest UK #39 on Oriole. His singles on Oriole are valued at £30 to £50 mint.
Rikki Henderson is said to have won a competition in a teen magazine called Mirabelle and the first prize was a recording contract with Embassy. However as Embassy booked sessions for a fee, a contract would hardly be necessary. It would most likely have been an audition for Embassy. He passed it.
Kay Barry was a Bristol singer, normally called Barbara Kay, with over a dozen Embassy covers in 1962-1965; from Sherry to Terry in fact. None of the lads could get as high as Frankie Valli on The Four Seasons original of Sherry, so the solution? Give it to a girl. Barbara Kay was in the Oscar Rabin Orchestra with the other Embassy stalwarts, Mike Redway and Ray Pilgrim. By 1964 she was a BBC regular singing covers with the Northern Dance Orchestra on the lunchtime The Beat Show. She became a member of The Carefrees for the 1964 We Love You, Beatles, an American #39 hit. In 1965 she did a couple of singles for Pye under her real name. She was later the other voice behind The Piglets, with Jonathan King, for the 1971 #3 hit Johnny Reggae. She didn’t give up on the covers business, appearing on the various Top of The Pops anonymous cover LPs in the early 1970s.
Jean Campbell (aka Jean Scott) was one of the main female vocalists, and also had recorded for Parlophone in the 1950s. These were British covers of American hits like True Love. Her virtuosity (You name it, I’ll sing it) landed her a part in Dial M for Music, a 1960 TV show with Ronnie Carroll and Denis Lotis. People could phone in, request a song, and one of them would sing it there and then. A popular tale is that a viewer asked for Danny Boy, from Ronnie Carroll. Though he was Northern Irish, he didn’t know the words, and apparently sang while Jean Campbell stood next to the camera mouthing the words to him. Ah, for AutoCue. For Embassy, she covered Brenda Lee (Sweet Nothins), Helen Shapiro (Walkin’ Back to Happiness), Petula Clark (Sailor, Romeo), Connie Francis (Where The Boys Are, Robot Man), The Shirelles (Will You Love Me Tomorrow), Toni Fisher (The Big Hurt) and The Crystals (Da Doo Ron Ron), and Millie (My Boy Lollipop). That’s the sort of range you needed, though her cover of Helen Shapiro’s Don’t Treat Me Like A Child was recorded when she was in her mid-30s. Not that she sounded much older than Helen at fourteen. Jean Campbell was a major singer in TV adverts later. She is the voice behind Hands that do dishes can be soft as your face … (Fairy Liquid), Beanz Meanz Heinz and Keep going well, keep going Shell.
Ken Barrie recorded for Embassy as Les Carle. He later achieved fame as the voice of Postman Pat on TV.
The other main ‘house’ singers, under a variety of names were Ray Pilgrim, Mike Redway, Ken Barrie and Tony Crane. Pilgrim, Barrie, Crane and Redway were The Typhoons. Mike Redway later joined the Mike Sammes Singers. Tony Crane became a bandleader. The Beatmen was a generic name used through 1964, so you had Mike Redway & The Beatmen, Ray Pilgrim & The Beatmen, Terry Brandon & The Beatmen, Joan Baxter and The Beatmen, Rikki Henderson & The Beatmen. You can see someone at a desk in F.W. Woolworth saying, I know! People’ll think it’s The Beatles. Well, only if they were daft enough to be buying Embassy in the first place. George Harrison once told a reporter that even Embassy had turned down The Beatles in early 1962, but that was probably humour.
The Typhoons became The Beatles and Merseybeat specialists. Their name appears on fifty-two tracks. They covered twenty-four Lennon-McCartney or George Harrison songs, though Mike Redway’s name went on the Billy J. Kramer covers, and Ray Pilgrim’s on Twist & Shout. Northern Songs, The Beatles music publishers, were delighted with the extra boost in sales. From Me To You entered the charts on 20th April 1963, and by the 22nd, The Typhoons version was in Woolworths. Northern Songs had provided an advance copy, and Mike Redway and Ray Pilgrim had recorded it on the Wednesday before its Friday release. They increased their sales by recording Beatles B-sides and LP tracks like All My Loving. All My Loving led a Beatles EP but was not available as a single.
The rumour that Elton John recorded on Embassy is not true; although he can be heard on Hallmark, Marble Arch and Avenue budget discs a few years later. Ross McManus, Elvis Costello’s dad, was said to be David Ross. He denied recording for Embassy, but admitted cheerfully to recording for Canon and Crossbow, another set of covers labels, in the mid-60s as Hal Prince and Hal Prince and The Layabouts.
The fairest thing that can be said about all this is that Embassy were a kind of early exercise in tribute bands. After all, plenty of British full-price record labels were scoring hits with cover versions of American artists’ songs; it’s just that Embassy’s were cover versions of cover versions of other artists’ songs. Oddly, the Oriole parent label originated very little, and in itself relied on covering American hits. Perhaps in a sense it was also a throwback to the days of sheet music sales when you purchased the ability to imitate your favourite artist in the comfort of your own home and piano.
Embassy had no airplay in the 60s. They never got onto the BBC. I’ve never found an Embassy advert in the music press of the time. In the early days in the 1950s they had had a twice weekly 15 minute spot on Radio Luxembourg introduced by entertainer Tommy Trinder who would use his catchphrase “You lucky people” to promote the latest releases. (Thanks to Stuart Ralls for this information).
One of the strangest things about Embassy is the comparative dearth of singles that survived. Millions of red and plum Embassy 45s were purchased by gullible punters across the British Isles during the early 60s, for there was a branch of Woolworth’s in every high street of every town, however far-flung, six hundred of them, and every store had a counter devoted to them, even with listening booths in some places. (Would that not have been counter productive?) This is how Embassy sold one in twenty of all discs sold in Britain. Yet few were to be found in secondhand record boxes in junk shops then, or in charity shops. More recently they are turning up in surprising numbers. Embassy discs are creeping out of closets now because the poor-man’s stigma has been forgotten and people finding hidden caches have no shame in handing them in, as in a kind of gun amnesty. Values are rising. There is more internet discussion on Embassy than on most major labels, and more is available reissued on CD.
Oriole was a proper label. There was only one studio in New Bond Street, Levy Studio. At the beginning of 1962, the Levy brothers were persuaded to install new recording equipment to match the rising standards at the major labels.
There was a further major upgrade in equipment in Summer 1963, with She Loves You by The Typhoons being the first release utilising the improved studio in August. They had superior compression and noticeably higher volume on the tracks. Johnny Worth’s memory of the 1958 studio is rose-tinted:
The gear was amazing. We recorded on tape and the producer, engineer and tape boy were set up behind a soundproof screen. Reg (Warburton) spoke to the band and singer by microphone. The drummer was shut off in a protected booth so that the drums didn’t spill over to other tracks (24 in all).
It would have been two-track at best. The Beatles started using four-track in 1964. The first London eight-track was installed in 1968. Sixteen-track arrived in 1971. There’s a picture of the mixing desk on the Woolworths history website. They had a 14-way microphone mixer: a very different thing. The 14 mics would have been assigned to two recording channels.
Levy Studios engineer Bill Johnson said:
There was always a bit of tension between the two Levy brothers, Morris and (Mr) Jacques. It was to come to a head when I began balancing their economy Woolworth records that went out on the Embassy label. The trick was to find what was going to be top of the hit parade in the coming weeks and then make an exact, or, as they called it in the trade, “Chinese Copy” using local singers and musicians. Then get them into Woolworth’s at half the price of the real thing. We got it down to a fine art, recording on a Thursday and in the stores by the following Monday.
But Morris was not pleased with many of the results. Either the level on the disc was not sufficient or interpretation was not close enough. The truth was that the studio was now totally under-funded and the gear had seen better days. So many advancements had been made elsewhere that it was becoming impossible to compete. I secretly borrowed a limiter/compressor from a rival studio and without telling (Mr) Jacques connected it to the disc-cutting suite. As I recorded the master discs for the factory, the limiter compressed the dynamic range and created a “wall of sound” enabling at least 8db additional level on the disc, and gave the recording a totally different feel. Morris was overjoyed but (Mr) Jacques and I were never to be close colleagues again and the situation got so volatile I had to leave the company in 1961.
Eventually both brothers had to concede that the studio needed re-equipping. This was accomplished by my successor Jeff Frost. But soon CBS, who had much of their output for British consumption pressed at Oriole Records over the years, decided that a takeover of the group (comprising Oriole and Embassy Records, their factories at Aston Clinton and Colnbrook, as well as Levy’s Sound Studios), would prove a sound business move.
Bill Johnson, Memories of Levy Sound Studios 1955-1961
The earliest rock and roll Embassy tracks sound bizarre. The Tunettes, being The Mike Sammes Singers, did Whole Lot of Shaking Going On and That’ll Be A Day in their typical style. The result is dire with the Mike Sammes Singers well-enunciated British English chorus sounding extremely out of place. The “Tunettes” also backed a lot of the early rock covers by solo singers. The early backing guys definitely sound big band, with a characteristic jump-jive bass sound and vamping guitar chords, but that’s what the BBC Light Programme sounded like. The piano playing from Ken Jones is the stand out. When Embassy creeps into the 60s, they’re still using a fine double bass player, where the original American hits had bass guitar. It gives a distinctive edge, and the bass and piano is generally better than the guitar and drums. The early rock and roll material sounds like a “youth” interlude in a dance band show. You can imagine them in DJs, smiles fixed grimly on their faces, having to stand up to play too. The guitarist is far happier doing songs like Kansas City which bridge into big band material. It may have been a good decision not to try to merely imitate the American originals. They knew they couldn’t hack it as credible rock, and did the best they could.
Wouldn’t a 1963 imitation of She Loves You by some anonymous session men hold at least some value? It certainly ought to and it certainly happened. She Loves You by The Typhoons was released on Embassy in 1963 with Cliff Richard’s summer hit It’s All in the Game sung by Mike Redway on the back. How’s about that for value? Mike Redway, also known as Redd Wayne, was one of The Typhoons anyway, as on this single were (one of the) Bud Ashtons and Ray Pilgrim.
The Typhoons, who also made an Embassy EP of A Hard Day’s Night and other Sixties’ greats like Surf City, Tired of Waiting, Baby Please Don’t Go, I Can’t Explain, I’ll Be There… were not necessarily the same people each time. Of the 62 songs credited to them between 1963 and 1965, Ray Pilgrim sang 29, Mike Redway sang 20, Ken Barrie 13, and Tony Crane sang 9. Ray Pilgrim was also Bobby Stevens and a member of Happy Knights. The Happy Knights became the Happy Knights Jazz Band to cover Kenny Ball’s hit, The Green Leaves of Summer.
She Loves You: The Typhoons, Embassy WB 566: both copies are in the sleeves they came in. This confirms my view that the blue and beige sleeves were interchangeable and ran together.
Do you want to know what She Loves You by The Typhoons sounds like? The UK’s biggest-selling Beatlemania single is a daunting prospect to take on. This is a workmanlike stab however; interestingly shaky when it reaches a couple of chords at the end of each chorus and strangely hollow in the high ooooos. (On a sliding scale slightly closer to Hilda Baker than Little Richard). Overall it’s not so much the musicianship as the excitement that’s lacking. When you play the original in comparison you can almost believe a thousand screaming fans are being held back behind studio doors while recording is in progress. Here it’s understandably a bit flat. Song publishers were fond of Embassy, which generated a lot of money, and so Northern Songs (Lennon & McCartney’s publisher) happily supplied Embassy with advance copies of Beatles releases so they could get them recorded before the original instantly charted.
On the B side of She Loves You, Mike Redway sings Cliff Richard’s It’s All In the Game admirably, but is required to make it sound like it always was – a crooner’s standard. You feel you are drifting around a ballroom floor; a lulling not unpleasant experience though probably not the reason most people bought the Cliff Richard version.
From Me To You, also by The Typhoons is another fascinating comparison, proving if it was ever needed the genius of Ringo Starr. On the original the style is deceptively relaxed and loose-shouldered, a style Levon Helm once described as “loosey-goosey” drumming. The Embassy session man has to show off with rolls, and dramatic tours of the drumheads. Organ replaces harmonica.
The Big Four
Right at the end of the Embassy era, after the CBS takeover, they reacted to the competition from Canon, Crossbow, Big Six, Six Hit and others with their four and six track recent hits EPs at budget prices by following suit, producing The Big Four series which came in “CBS orange” sleeves, which may not have been coincidental. These were in single-style wrapping and were the same lot of artists, just four a a time rather than two. There were fourteen releases, spanning January 1965 (when the last single, Keep Searchin’ was issued) until July 1965. The first three releases had bright blue centres, then they reverted to Embassy maroon. CBS had done several EPs under the title The Big Four before
Embassy’s final recording session was on 26th July 1965. The last Big Four release (WT2014) has The Typhoons doing Help! and You’ve Got Your Troubles, Ray Pilgrim with The Beatmen doing Wooly Bully and Peggie Allen doing There But For Fortune.
As fifty years has now flowed under the bridge the talent of these unknown or little known music makers is beginning to be appreciated and Embassy records are acquiring a kitsch charm of their own. Embassy records are starting to appear in the Rare Record Price Guide with a value in some cases at least equal to the ‘proper’ record they once covered. Bud Ashton’s Because They’re Young on Embassy is listed as the same price as Duane Eddy’s original on London; The Typhoons’ Surf City is equal to the original Jan and Dean. A couple of Embassy releases have gone at £25 on eBay, but that’s perhaps the addiction of bidding fever. In late 2012, I went through a box of singles. Most were 50p or £1. The Embassy were all £1 to £2 (it was a batch in unusually good condition). By 2015, clean Embassy singles were regularly seen at £4 to £5. Then again, I once got a box of thirty for £10, and that included the leatherette 7” box.
Earlier singles have a silver rim round the centre label, and this runs until May 1961, with WB451, Bud Ashton covering The Shadows on The Frightened City on one side and Doris Lee doing You’ll Never Know on the other. WB452, Don Duke and Bobby Stevens essaying Hello Mary Lou is the first disc in the rimless design. A few discs between WB400 and WB 435 have closed centres – odd as Oriole / Embassy had their own plants tooled up and didn’t get records pressed elsewhere. They may have been trying closed centres, as after all, Embassy never got on jukeboxes. Around the same time they introduced the ribbed circle of vinyl around the label, which was designed to make discs grip each other on autochangers
Gallery: Single centres … click to enlarge
1 Rave On : Hal Burton WB290, June 1958. Silver rim, brighter red. Matches the first sleeve.
2 Shakin’ All Over: Bobby Stevens, July 1960, WB404. Silver rim. Closed centre discs appear from time to time, but there are not many.
3 Bobby’s Girl: Kay Barry, 1962, WB 534. No silver rim. Now it has multi-changer ribbing around the label, which silver rim discs lack.
4 Bobby’s Girl: darker labels appear in 1962. This disc came in both varieties.
5 Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun): Paul Rich & The Beatmen January 1965. WB 678 Last single
6 Pied Piper of Hamelin: WB476 October 1961, Embassy Kidditales (WB467 to WB 476, all released together)
Embassy did a series of birthday discs on the Kidditales series … one for each year.
Gallery: EP and LP … click to enlarge
1 Twist: Various, WEP 1065, 1962 pink EP centre
2 The Big Four 4-track series 1965, paper sleeves, WT 2002
3 Christmas At Home (LP): 1961 LP centre
Sleeves … click to enlarge
1 White Christmas: Bob Dale & Four-A-Chord, WB 159 1956
2 Bird Dog: Paul Rich WB 301 1957
3 Gurney Slade: Steve Stannard & His All Stars WB 429 1960
4 Stay: Rikki Henderson, WB 432 1961
5 Brown Eyed-Handsome Man: Ray Pilgrim WB 562 1962
6 Girl Don’t Come: Kay Barry, WB 674 1965
Usually you can trace the date of sleeve changes because most retailers filed by catalogue number, and wrote the number on the company sleeve. Woolworths were the sole retailer, and didn’t do that, and there was no white box for writing in catalogue numbers.
The dark red “Music For You” sleeve came first. It appears to be based on EMI’s dancing sleeves series, but aimed at the short-sighted. A guess would be that it runs to mid-1959 in both 45 and 78 rpm versions. I have a definite White Christmas, by Bob Dale with Four-In-A-Chord from December 1956 in a later grey / beige sleeve, but I suspect this record was reissued every Christmas because I have it in an earlier one too. In December 1956, Embassy hadn’t started pressing 45s.
The grey / beige and blue “Tops in Pops” sleeves followed, and are interspersed on annotated singles. I have seen blue 78 rpm versions. They appear to be concurrent, perhaps alternate weeks, but also they might be random. More blue sleeves turn up than grey/ beige (I’d guess 70% are blue) but there’s no pattern I can detect, and they don’t alternate in any pattern – as if marking weeks of release. I have found She Loves You in labelled sleeves – blue and beige. If anything, beige sleeves increase in proportion in 1963 to 1965, but never surpass the number of blue..
Embassy sold EPs and LPs too, trying to retain their price edge by doing six tracks instead of four. The Juke Box Favourites EP series from 1960-1964 (rounding up tracks from singles) are the most sought after. The cover photos are delicious enough, but they also show different models of juke box on each sleeve, and this appeals to the juke box owners market.
Juke Box Favourites
This EP series remains collectable, though some say it’s because of the juke boxes on the sleeves. Rare Record Price Guide doesn’t mention them. The first (1960) has a Discogs high of £5.99 … for a budget record. Ones on sale range from £5 to £23. Number 8 has a highest of £9.99. The tracks are selected from single releases of a few months earlier recycled. Record stores tell me they never say around long. People love the sleeves.
What didn’t occur to them until late, surprisingly perhaps, was to compile their various artists pop singles and EPs onto LPs. I’d guess they saw LPs as their older buyers, and the double-sided singles as younger buyers. They couldn’t conceive of youngsters buying LPs. It’s odd because by 1962 even Decca was producing cover version LPs of pop (Big Big Hits of 62 by Brian Poole and The Tremeloes). They did succumb in the autumn of 1962, and put selections from Juke Box Favourites on LP. Move to the late 60s, and the LP of recent covers like Top of The Pops and Hot Hits dominated the market.
It was rare for Embassy in having a compilation LP made from the cream of the EPs. On the EPs, they used one photo three times and one twice.
Galleries Juke Box Favourites, the EPs 1 t0 8 … click to enlarge
60s EPs … click to enlarge
By now, Embassy had started compiling EPs directed at a younger, pop audience than the 50s output.
Gallery … 60s EPs … click to enlarge
While the 50s sessions were conceived of EPs, these 60s ones mainly round up previous singles.
The cheekiest EP of the lot is Hits From Summer Holiday by Ray Pilgrim, Mike Redway & Bud Ashton. First it three-quarters replicates the Cliff Richard & The Shadows Columbia EP, just replacing Dancing Shoes with Foot Tapper, then it manages to get a photo of Cliff Richard on the cover “reproduced by permission of Elstree Distributors.” Foot Tapper was not “sung” by anyone, let alone Bud Ashton, what with being a Shadows instrumental cover.
They followed it up with an EP of songs from Wonderful Life, again with Cliff Richard pictured on the cover, this time with Susan Hampshire.
With Themes From The Films: Cleopatra (plus three others), they got a still from the movie, but not the one of Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton that you’d actually want to see.
The Music From James Bond EP also uses film stills from the original movies to sell cover versions of the theme music in 1964. The same EP turns up on Pickwick’s Bravo label in 1967 with the same sleeve and same credits and performances, just a different logo.
Looking at the back of the Bravo EP, I suspect that several EPs were bought in from Embassy. It may solve the references to Allegro being an Embassy label. Allegro was a subsidiary of Pickwick International for classical, just as Bravo was for popular. Embassy had put out several classical EPs under their own name after 1958. Why would they need a separate label? Perhaps Allegro bought in its budget versions from Embassy after 1964.
Embassy released LPs too, and they’re bottom-level charity shop fare. In spite of years of trawling through boxes of seriously unwanted budget LPs. I’ve rarely seen Embassy, which is a shame as the sleeves are a time-capsule.
They also had custom inner sleeves, advertising 7″ EPs on one side, and 12″ LPs on the other.
What differed from every other label was that they had a seal on the inner label. As in all UK record shops in the 1950s and 1960s, LP sleeves were displayed empty. The records were kept behind the counter in the inner sleeves. AsWoolworths generally declined to play records, they could place a sticker seal over the entrance of the inner sleeve:
Housewives’ Playtime is the other side of Embassy. Two popular BBC radio Light Programme shows were Housewives’ Choice and Workers’ Playtime. This cheerfully combines them. By 1963 the stuff on here was already old hat: That Old Black Magic, Just In Time, The Gypsy In My Soul. I found it at £1.99 in a box of 99p LPs. The vinyl was dull and scratched. ‘Why is this one twice as much?’ I asked. ‘For the reason you’re holding it. The sleeve.’
A footnote to this: November 2021 I saw another copy in a box at Oxfam. LPs in the box ranged from 99p to £2.99. This one was £9.99. Someone else realizes the worth of sleeves,
(Yes, she is SITTING ON THE RADIOGRAM! Horror).
They assembled a lot of their middle of the road material with titles like (A salute to) Al Jolson, (A salute to) Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey, (A tribute to) Elvis Presley, (A tribute to) Cliff Richard, then 20 Irish Melodies, 20 Scottish Melodies, 4 Great Musicals, West End Successes. The inner sleeves advertised the EPs on one side and LPs on the other, confirming the relationship. The slogan: Music for all tastes. Great Performances. Superb artists. New Full Range-High Fidelity Recordings. The misplaced hyphen is theirs.
Looking at Embassy LPs reveals something about their ethos. Even when compiling well-worn tracks for Christmas At Home in 1961, they still credited artists under invented names. Was it a way of adding authenticity? Some regular Embassy artists like Paul Rich and Rikki Henderson were not sailing under false colours either. Ten years later, series like Top of The Pops on LP would never have dreamt of crediting artistes. It’s commendable in a way:
Jacques Leroy was a regular Embassy name, but every track got a credit even if “Group”: Bob Dale, Elizabeth Humphries, Four In A Chord, Bobbie Britten. We don’t know who they are, but at least they could identify their own contributions. Kenny Bardell could point to the sleeve and tell his grandkids, ‘Kenny Bardell … White Christmas … that was me!” The thing is they also had a 1956 single of White Christmas credited to Bob Dale with Four in a Chord, with Four in a Chord on Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer on the other side (as on this LP). I suspected that White Christmas would be the same recording, but not at all. Bob Dale gives the full deep Bing to the song, while Kenny Bardell, five years later, has a lighter pop voice and tinklier arrangement.
Home On The Range was an LP by The Maple Leaf Four, and compiled earlier country & western covers. Maple Leaf? Presumably a Canadian range then.
Liverpool Beat is practically a Typhoons album, as they did most of them. It’s also one of the only Embassy LPs in Rare Record Price Guide 2022.
CBS kept the Embassy name filed away, and dusted it off in 1973 for a series of “CBS Embassy” reissue LPs (no singles or EPs), including classics like Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and Pete Seeger’s Greatest Hits. By then no one working there remembered the connotations. They continued using the name on reissue LPs until 1980. Marmalade’s singles were on CBS at the time, and so a compilation of hits went out on budget Embassy.
I find the inner sleeve of CBS Embassy LPs amusingly ironic: All The Best from Embassy: The World’s Greatest Stars. Aretha Franklin. Johnny Cash. Tammy Wynette. Fleetwood Mac. Blood, Sweat & Tears. Georgie Fame. Andy Williams, Barbra Streisand. Tony Bennett. Indeed.
CBS Embassy centre labels … click to enlarge
1 The Blue Horizon Story Vol 1, Various Artists 1973, CBS Embassy label
2 Pete Seeger’s Greatest Hits (LP): Pete Seeger 1968, reissue 1978 CBS Embassy imprint now reduced to a sub-label
3 The Songs of Richie Furay: Poco 1979. No Embassy markings on outer sleeve at all
The CD era
On any gallery below … click to enlarge
Embassy has more thorough compilations that any other record label I can think of. There is a huge quantity of Embassy material available on CD. I assume that as every recording was a cash-in-hand job, no musician involved has any copyright claim. I also assume that Sony / Columbia / CBS has no interest in pursuing any of this stuff, apart from the Beatles covers album, and that may be because Sony own the music publishing on The Beatles. So it’s a field day for collectors.
2009 brought the first Embassy Various Artists CD collection: Mum & Dad Bought Their Records at Woolies: 50 Hits and Favourites From The 1950s.
In 2010, the fascinating official Embassy CD reissue was The Embassy Beatles Covers by The Typhoons, running to 24 Beatles covers cut in the 1960s, with two new additions by Ray Pilgim and Mike Redway recorded in 2010. The extensive credits show that The Typhoons were sometimes boosted by The Mike Sammes Singers. Appropriately it was properly licensed from Sony (CBS having acquired the old catalogue when they bought Oriole) and it carries the old 60s CBS logo. It shows how The Typhoons progressed from near send-ups (fake Liverpudlian; too many “ooohs” in the background; and you can bet they did mophead head-shaking to match) to more considered covers. The insert notes that from She Loves You onwards, Embassy had new, upgraded recording equipment and from that point in August 1963 Embassy releases sound louder and less compressed, i.e. more like major label material.
Then in 2013, the end of copyright on discs after fifty years, allowed a host of 1962 discs to be issued without paying a bean in royalties. The 1962 guys were unlucky, as the period got changed from 50 years to 70 years late in 2012. But it allowed the issue of The 1962 Embassy British Hit Parade box set with four CDs and one hundred and twenty-seven tracks. It was accompanied by 4 CD sets for 1960 and 1961. That’s nearly 360 Embassy pop / rock tracks.
Pink & Black Records brought out The Embassy Story: Rock & Roll Vol.1 around the same time, which was mainly sourced from vinyl, some of it 78 rpm, and asserts that the copyright holders could not be found. Well, Sony is easy to find, but they’re all over fifty years old so fall out of European copyright anyway. The tracks retain a little distortion, but these things were never designed for hi-fi. The rock and roll tracks sound like an ageing swing band, but Bill Haley & The Comets were basically an ageing swing band too. The Embassy Rock ‘n’ Roll Files is the same programme. In 2013 two more Embassy various artists sets appeared Embassy Records Story 2- A Tribute to Elvis Presley, and Embassy Records Story 3 – A Tribute to Cliff Richard.
Johnny Worth has his own CD set, The Complete Johnny Worth Embassy Singles 1958-1960 (38 tracks). According to The Wonder of Embassy Records online,
“Bud Ashton” has three CDs, but they’re not on amazon.co.uk anymore. Swinging Guitars (2002), Play Man Play (2009) and The Best of Bud Ashton (2008).
In The Mood: Instrumental Gems From The Embassy Label (32 tracks). Add Classical Musicals and Light Operas and Stage and Screen. Originally virtually all of the latter two were on EPs. The Embassy Label- Songs From The Stage & Screen has 90 tracks. John Hanson appears on many of the tracks, and he was an authentic West End musical star.
Ray Pilgrim has even more Embassy material released: Pilgrim’s Progress 1960: Ray Pilgrim aka Bobby Stevens; Pilgrim’s Progress 1961: Ray Pilgrim aka Bobby Stevens; Pilgrim’s Progress 1962: Ray Pilgrim, Mike Redway & Barbara Kay (31 tracks). There used to be CDs but now they’re down to downloads and streaming only.
Thanks to Stuart Ralls for corrections above. His Embassy collection was used to compile The Embassy Hit Parade series.